Review: World War Z Snatches Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

"Last one in the chopper is a zombie! Oh, wait..."
“Last one in the chopper is a zombie! Oh, wait…”

Considering how problematic was the shooting of World War Z (budget wildly out of control, third act scrapped and re-shot), the outcome is surprisingly strong, if not memorable.

Based on the excellent book by Max Brooks, World War Z only bears a passing resemblance to the text. Mostly gone are the sociopolitical undertones that gave the novel notoriety (although readers get to find out what happened to the North Koreans). Also absent, the gore: Director Marc Forster and producer/star Brad Pitt had to deliver a PG movie for Paramount to distribute, and gallons of blood and innards would have been counterproductive.

Despite the handicap, Forster and Pitt suck you into the movie and ramp up the tension effectively. Almost all set-pieces work remarkably, much like a video game (Stage one: Philadelphia. Stage two: South Korea. Stage three: Israel). The zombies are 28 Days Later-fast and are not as much into eating brains as in spreading the infection.

World War Z is basically a procedural at a large scale: UN war-crimes investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is brought back from retirement when an infection similar to rabies threatens to wipe out mankind. Lane is given the very few resources still available to track down the origin of the epidemic in order to –maybe- develop a vaccine. He doesn’t have much of a choice since his family may get kicked out of a safe haven in the middle of the ocean if he refuses to comply.

I don’t want to spoil the fun, so let’s just say the film unfolds logically and at times, surprisingly. While the first two thirds of the film work as an efficient action-horror hybrid (I found myself clutching the armrest and leaning forward a couple of times), the denouement is pure suspense, clearly the creation of a different writer (Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard, of Lost fame).

While the parts work individually, together are not as satisfying. There is no social criticism or genuine terror, the “what if…?” factor present in the subgenre’s better movies (Night of the Living Dead, Rec). Oddly, the only peoples that get nudged are the Israelis, who are accused of knowing in advance about the outbreak and lift walls, as opposed to share the information with the rest of the world.

A common criticism is how trailers tend to ruin movies by revealing too much. In the case of World War Z, it’s particularly painful. Many of the film’s twist and turns are in the previews, minimizing their impact. Regrettable, considering the pains director Marc Forster goes to create creepy imagery that’s also PG-friendly.

Three and a half zombified prairie dogs (they ate the other half).

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

4 thoughts on “Review: World War Z Snatches Victory from the Jaws of Defeat”

  1. …and then you can says that it bites…

    Come on, I waited a whole day for someone to jump at that line.

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